As a child growing up in Seattle, few things scared you as much as the Seafair Pirates. With the crack of the cannon and the promise of treats, the Pirates made their way down community parade routes each summer to energetically entertain (harass?) children and parents. But just who are these raging men of merriment, behind the feathers, doubloons, and “Arrgh!”s?
The Greenwood Seafair Parade will be held along Greenwood Avenue North, starting at 6 p.m. Wed., July 28. For information on other Seafair events, visit seafair.com.
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Their current captain, Doug “Barnacle” Kuehne, is a granddad who works in Safeco’s claims department. He met the Pirates while sailing on a friend’s boat to Grand Cayman during pirates’ week, an event where the island is invaded by pirates from around the world. He spent much of his time there drinking with the Seafair Pirates during a hurricane scare, and becoming intrigued by the fraternal society.
The morning of July 10 marks not only the start of Seafair, but the changing of the captains. Then, Mike “Sparrow” Knowlton will take the reins.
Seated in full regalia at Greenwood’s Baranof, Knowlton’s costume is remarkably similar to Johnny Depp’s in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Before that Disney franchise took off, it was hard for Pirates to find premade costumes.
“The club’s advice was to go to the Goodwill to the large-woman’s section and find yourself some fancy blouses, and that’s how costumes were initially built,” says Kuehne.
“You look at the costumes from the ’50s, and they were basically wearing a men’s dress shirt, maybe with the sleeves ripped off, and a vest with face makeup, because back then you didn’t wear long hair or mustaches, so everything was grease-painted on,” says Knowlton. “The evolution into the ’60s was a little beatnik, the ’70s was a little more flamboyant, and the ’80s was glam with sequins and satin.”
During the day, Knowlton works in construction as a caulker for high-rise buildings, a job which gives him the freedom to keep a six-inch-long goatee adorned with skull beads year round. His nickname is based on his close resemblance to Depp’s character, Captain Jack Sparrow.
“They call me Swallow, they call me Seaman, they call me Seaman Swallow, they call me Spit,” Knowlton says.
There are two ways to become a Pirate. You can apply to be a candidate over the course of one year, which requires a great deal of time dedicated to the organization, or through a more flexible five-year plan—only open to those who subject themselves to a year as the captain’s Davy Jones.
Davy’s only task is to make sure it doesn’t rain on the Pirates’ parade, literally. If it does, Davy is plunged into the nearest body of water! “My Davy got thrown in last year during the Torchlight Parade,” Kuehne says.
You can find the Seafair Pirates at watering holes all around parade routes during Seafair. The Baranof is a particular favorite during the Greenwood/Phinney Parade, to be held this year on Wed., July 28. The Pirates have created a special drink called the Cannonblast, which consists of rum, rum, and more rum, with a splash of rum.
However, the drink of choice for Pirates at large is orange juice and Captain Morgan’s. “Don’t want to get the scurvy, that’s why we drink the orange juice, arrgh!” yelled Kuehne.
The Greenwood/Phinney parade has become a destination for Seafair fans. Although the parade’s theme changes from year to year, a few components remain consistent.
“There are five families of Seafair community parades: the Clowns, the Pirates, the boat club, the commodores, and the parade marshals,” Knowlton said.
Yet there is only one family the Pirates have had issues with, and that’s the Seafair Clowns, which coincidentally were founded by a former Pirate. “Years past there has been a rivalry between the two, but now we work for common causes,” said Dave Domholt, Seafair Clown Chairman. “During Seafair there has been stealing of items from each other’s floats, changing signs around—but it’s all been in good fun.”
Ultimately, however, the two groups work toward the same goal. Explains Kuehne: “It’s not a good day of parading if you don’t traumatize a kid.”